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Brew Tips: How to Store Your Coffee Beans

Coffee BeansYou’ve found the perfect espresso machine or coffee maker for you and gotten some tasty coffee beans to brew with. However, now you’ve started to use your beans, you may be wondering how to store them so that they retain their flavor and stay in the best shape possible. This subject can be quite confusing, as there almost as many ideologies on the best way to store coffee beans as there are roasts. In the hope of clearing things up, we completed a variety of tests to determine the best way to keep your coffee fresher longer.

The Freshness Factor

You may have heard that coffee has a short shelf life, which is mostly true. After the beans have been roasted, they outgas carbon dioxide for about 72 hours. As such, many local roasters will package their beans in bags that feature one-way valves that allow the carbon dioxide to escape while protecting them from contact with oxygen, which can make the beans go stale. While this allows you to experience the coffee’s peak flavor, but it will start to lose its freshness once its bag has been opened. Thus, as a general rule, we have found that it’s best to consume your coffee within one or two weeks after opening the bag.

If coffee wasn’t already complicated enough, it is important to keep in mind that every coffee has it’s own sweet spot for when it tastes the best after it has been roasted. Thus, if you ask a number of different roasters when you should drink your coffee beans by, you will get a variety of different answers. Since everyone has different tastes, so we highly recommend that you experiment with your coffee and find your own sweet spot for your roasts.

Storing Your Coffee

Due to the reasons mentioned above, we have found that is best buy your coffee in small quantities, as you need it. Likewise, if you are using whole bean coffee, you should only grind your beans as you make your coffee or espresso, instead of grinding the whole bag all at once. This will ensure the coffee keeps more of its flavor.

However, if you buy your coffee in bulk or need to store it for some other reason, you do have options.  For starters, you may want to divide your coffee supply into a small container for daily use, and a larger container for the bulk of the coffee (which will only be opened to refill the small container). This will allow you to reduce the amount of air the larger container of coffee is exposed to, enabling you to keep it longer. Another thing to keep in mind is generally whole beans will have a longer shelf life than ground beans, which go stale at a faster rate since they have more surface area. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t store ground coffee, you may just not be able to keep it quite as long, depending on how sensitive your taste buds are.

In fact, this same rule applies to how long you can store your coffee in general. In short, it depends on you and how you like your coffee to taste. Some people will notice a change in the flavor of the coffee after a week and want to replace it, while others won’t notice a difference in the coffee until it has lost most of its flavor.

When it comes to storing your coffee, the best environment to keep it in is an airtight container, in a cool, dry place. Why is how you store your coffee so critical?  If you don’t store your coffee in this manner, you risk exposing your coffee to the five “coffee killers” listed below, which decrease the lifespan of your coffee and cause it to go stale.

  • Air: When roasted beans are exposed to air, the flavors in them are oxidized, causing the coffee to go stale.
  • Moisture:  One of the worst things for coffee, moisture taints the oils in the beans, causing off flavors or even making the beans deteriorate.
  • Heat: Exposing the beans to heat before they are brewed will cause them to lose flavor.
  • Light: Direct light can cause the beans to go stale and lose flavor.
  • Odor: Coffee is porous, which means if coffee is near other fragrant items, like fish, it can absorb these flavors. As a result, your coffee could end up tasting like seafood instead of coffee.

Luckily, there are some pretty nifty containers on the market that you can use to store your coffee in and keep it out of harm’s way. We have found that the best options are metal, ceramic or even darkly colored plastic canisters. In addition, it is important to use coffee containers that are airtight, which will keep out air and can prevent moisture and odor from contaminating your beans as well. One of our favorites is the Airscape Coffee Bean Canister, which has a specially designed lid that you push down to remove air from inside the can.

What about glass or clear plastic containers? While these options do look pretty on your counter and let you to see the contents inside, they also allow in one of the biggest coffee killers – light. If you really want to keep your beans in a clear container, make sure to store it in a pantry or drawer where it won’t be exposed to sunlight. Another alternative is to use a polarized canister that will allow you to see its contents while keeping light out.

Is it Ever Okay to Freeze Your Beans?

Freezing beans is a contentious topic in the coffee world. Some people adamantly oppose ever freezing your beans, while some claim it’s okay in certain circumstances. According to the National Coffee Association (NCA), “It is important not to refrigerate or freeze your daily supply of coffee because contact with moisture will cause it to deteriorate.” This is a valid point, since every time you open the bag of coffee, which is likely at least once a day; you will be exposing the beans to oxygen and whatever humidity is in the air. Neither of these things is good for coffee and can impact the coffee’s flavor. This effect is even worse when open bags of coffee are stored in the freezer. The humidity forms ice crystals, which essentially freezer burns the beans and causes them to go stale even faster.

However, when it comes to storing unopened coffee, the NCA states it okay to keep it in the freezer as long as it is in an airtight bag. However, once you remove this bag from the freezer and thaw the coffee, do not put the bag back in the freezer. If you do, you will encounter the issue mentioned above, and will likely have freezer burned coffee. Instead of returning the coffee to the freezer, the NCA suggests that you “move [it] to an airtight and store in a cool, dry place.”

While we like the NCA, we couldn’t just take their word for it, so we decided to conduct a couple of tests ourselves. While we did notice a slight difference in the taste of the beans and did have to tweak our grind for the beans a bit, overall we found that coffee beans can be frozen, as long as the package is tightly sealed and unopened the entire time.

Through our research and quasi-scientific experiments, we have discovered a few tips and tricks to keep in mind when storing your beans. While we prefer to use our coffee sooner rather than later, we have found it is possible to prolong the life of your coffee if you take the time to store it properly.


A Tea Lover in a Coffee World: Miro Tea Review

Miro TeaMy tea tasting travels recently led me back to the city of Ballard, to explore Miro Tea, which has set out to revolutionize the tea drinking experience in our coffee soaked city. Considered to be one of the trendy and up-and-coming parts of town, Ballard is home to many tasty restaurants and cute cafes. In fact, the maker of the delicious chocolate covered espresso beans we carry, Hot Cakes, is located just down the street.

Luckily, Miro Tea’s cozy atmosphere allows the shop to fit right in. In keeping with the area’s hipster vibe, the entire store is made out of recycled materials. The piece de resistance is the tea tasting bar. This beautiful lacquered table is made out of a tree stump that provides the space with a Northwest feel. The wall behind the bar is covered in bamboo, which is fitting since the name “Miro” has Buddhist origins. However, the best part about the tasting bar is the tea! There are always four teas available at the bar to sample, and they are changed out every day so that people in the neighborhood can try something different.

While I was in the shop, I got a chance to chat with Miro’s assistant manager, Emi Horiuchi, who has been with the company for about four years, to learn a little bit about the company’s history and mission. According to Emi, Miro Tea’s founder, Jeannie Liu, opened the café in August 2007, with the idea of creating a tea bar that was different from the old fashioned-style tea houses. Thus, Jeannie created a modern yet casual environment, where customer’s don’t have to worry about being told “you’re doing it wrong,” when it comes to selecting, brewing and drinking their tea. Emi also explained that they try to be fairly approachable, and one of her favorite aspects about working in the store is that she “get[s] to offer people things that they like, rather than telling them what they should like.”

TeaBarWhen it comes to finding something they like, customers shouldn’t have any trouble. At Miro Tea there is a giant menu at the counter that features about 200 blended and non-blended loose leaf teas and herbals. This selection of teas changes depending on the season and what is in stock, as Jeannie travels all over the world to try and buy different teas. You can also purchase tea beverages such as tea lattes (tea brewed with steamed milk), chai and iced tea fusions (iced tea hand shaken with seasonal fruits, herbs and fresh squeezed juices). If you do happen to get stuck trying to decide on a tea, just ask the knowledgeable staff who are happy to offer their recommendations.

Of course, that is just their tea menu, which doesn’t even begin to cover the wide selection of food that is available at Miro Tea. You can choose from a variety of pastries, sandwiches, soups and salads. However, the most popular snack is the crepes, which come in both sweet and savory options. Emi claims Miro is most well-known for the Christy (fresh spinach and goat cheese, and topped with Spanish Serrano ham and an over easy fried egg) and the Harvest (roasted yellow squash, eggplant, zucchini, red onion, kale, green & red peppers with goat cheese & house made fire roasted tomato sauce) crepes, but all of them sound equally delicious.

Tea and CrepeAfter hearing about all of the scrumptious sounding teas and treats available, I decided to test them out for myself. I went with the Coconut Oolong, a Baozhong oolong flavored with coconut. This tea happens to be one of the shop’s more popular teas, along with the Chill (a peppermint and licorice herbal blend) and the Bourbon St Red (rooibos flavored with vanilla and bourbon). For a snack I tried the sweet Chocolate Haze crepe, which was filled with Nutella, banana toasted hazelnuts and topped with whipped cream. My tea arrived in a Bodum Bistro Mug that showed off the tea’s pretty, light yellow color. It tasted amazing – very light and sweet with slight nutty and coconut flavor. The crepe was much bigger than I expected, but was very tasty as well, which was evident in my ability to eat the entire thing in one sitting despite its size and richness.

Before I left, Emi added that Jeannie is into supporting the neighborhood; so opening the store was “all about building the community, and not about the money.” The goal was to have a tea shop where people could come in and relax and meet others. From the looks of things, it appears Jeannie and the folks at Miro Tea have certainly accomplished this goal. When I visited, the shop was full of people, who were either quietly typing away on their computers or hanging out with friends. There is even a corner filled with books and games that people can use to pass the time while they sip their tea. This shop, and neighborhood, is certainly my cup of tea and I will definitely be back for more.

A Tea Lover in a Coffee World: Teahouse Kuan Yin Review

teahouse kuan yin outsideOne of the older teahouses in the Seattle area, Teahouse Kuan Yin in Wallingford has been around for 24 years (the shop opened it’s doors in 1990). The shop’s longevity has made it into sort of a landmark and has also attracted many loyal customers. However, the store’s visitors are not just limited to tea connoisseurs, as its cozy atmosphere and friendly staff make teahouse Kuan Yin an inviting place to everyone, from tea newbies to coffee drinkers.

One of the first things you will notice when you enter the shop is the strong smell of spices and tea. The smell is not unpleasant, and is reminiscent of a spice shop or an Eastern marketplace. The teahouse is decorated in an Asian theme, with rice-paper panels to one side of the building, and woodcarvings, pottery, scrolls of calligraphy and local art mounted on the walls. There is also an impressive amount of pretty tea ware and accessories around the shop that customers can buy. The store’s relative quietness (only light music is played in the background) and abundance of tables and comfy leather chairs make this a great place to study, work or curl up with some tea and just relax. In fact, during my visit, I saw several people quietly typing away on their computers.

Let’s not forget about the tea. Teahouse Kuan Yin has a wide selection of teas, which are displayed in tins, containers and on shelving through the store. One of the members of the staff estimated that there are about 110 or more in their catalog, all of which are available for purchase at the store, or to be brewed hot or iced. I decided to sample their famous Kashmiri Pink Chai, which is made from green tea, almonds, spices, milk and sugar simmered together. The tea gets its pinkish-brown color, and its name, from the tea turning pink during the brewing process from oxidation.

I was interested in what a green tea based chai would taste like, since all of the other chais I’ve had have been brewed with black tea. Using almonds in chai was new to me as well, which, I learned from the store’s blog, is a northern Indian variant in making chai. The generously large cup of chai I received did indeed have a pink tone, and a smooth, almost floral flavor. The tea was much more mild than others I have tasted, and the spiciness that is often present in chai barely came through. Despite being different than what I am accustomed to, the chai was tasty and would be a good option for people who don’t usually like spicy flavors.

The food menu is almost as varied as the teahouse’s tea selection and contains pastries, cakes, breads, samosas, soups and even curries. The ham and cheese stuffed pastries and samosas looked inviting, but I limited my splurging to tea, and went with a simple snicker doodle cookie. The cookie was perfectly baked, with just the right amount of moistness, and tasted delicious! Overall, I really enjoyed the environment and offerings at Teahouse Kuan Yin. The teahouse is definitely a place I would take friends to grab a snack and chat or revisit on my own to try to learn more about the shop’s history, and drink more tea of course.

The Reluctant Barista: Milk Frothing Madness

Milk Frothing TechniqueHow many how-to-froth-milk videos have you watched? They make it look so easy! While my espresso shots are really improving, I still have a hard time getting milk to the right consistency for a perfect latte. My lack of consistent consistency makes me a little grumpy…even mad. If frothing milk makes you grumpy too, then follow along as I try to de-mystify microfoam. It is time for FROTHING MADNESS!

First things first, while you can use the words froth and foam interchangeably, what we are after is the ever elusive microfoam. The manner in which milk is heated produces different results. Microfoam is smooth and velvety with a texture almost like wet paint because very tiny bubbles are incorporated evenly throughout the liquid. The foam I most often produce is heated milk with a bubbly volcano of erupted meringue dolloped on top. This is not microfoam.

The more you practice on one home espresso machine, the more you get to know the timing involved. This is one of my problems. I froth milk on different machines. Teri in customer service tried to console me. She said, “just when you thought you had steaming down on one machine, you try another machine and it steams totally different! …or someone changes your steam tip from a two-hole to a four-hole!” (Which totally happens around here but probably doesn’t happen at your house.)

You are probably familiar with the basics of milk frothing:

  • Start with a chilled stainless steel milk frothing pitcher and cold milk.
  • Submerge the steam wand, start to froth, then lower the pitcher until just the steam tip is submerged. The milk should move in a circular pattern.
  • Plunge the wand lower into the pitcher and continue to roll the milk.
  • Stop at your desired temperature.

While this sounds well and good, let’s explore how this works in real-life situations with three very different home espresso machines. Armed with some additional tricks from my barista friends, we can learn together!

Rocket EvoluzioneRocket Giotto EvoluzioneA heat exchanger espresso machine with a large 60oz boiler

Espresso machine repair tech, Bryan, gave me some great advice. First, whole milk froths best. Second, on a larger espresso machine like this one, plunge the wand a few seconds sooner than you think it will take. It only took 35 seconds to froth 6 ounces of milk to 165F. I found this out the hard way because at 40 seconds it was up to 170F and the milk smelled scalded. Because it happens so fast, it is hard to make adjustments. I grabbed a gallon of milk and kept trying until I got it just right.

Breville InfuserBreville InfuserA home espresso machine with a thermoblock

Matthew Hodson, a Seattle-area professional barista, shared this via Twitter “Experiment to find the spot where the milk and foam spin in a whirlpool and integrate. Only aerate briefly (count 1,2,3 quickly) and then spend the rest of the time integrating with the whirlpool.” It took 1:15 to get 6 ounces of milk to 165F. This was enough time to experiment with different adjustments. With some extra time and careful attention spent tilting and pivoting the frothing pitcher around the steam wand, this technique produced good results.

Saeco Via VeneziaSaeco Via VeneziaA single boiler with less than 8oz capacity

To get quality milk frothing from a smaller espresso machine requires every trick in the book. Make sure the espresso machine is on and pre-heated. Clear the steam wand (or in this case the panarello) into the drip tray until it is all steam with no water. Note where the air intake hole is on the panarello sleeve and keep it even with the level of the milk in the pitcher, not above or below. Froth one drink at a time, in this case 6 ounces took 1 minute to steam but was still very bubbly.

Lastly, Miranda in customer service told me you can try to “fix” milk frothing madness by softly tapping the frothing pitcher on the counter and swirling it in a circle repeatedly to try to eliminate big bubbles and incorporate the little bubbles back into the mix. Don’t try to re-heat or re-froth the milk. When all else fails keep these two important adages in mind,
1) Don’t cry over spilt milk
2) Tis a lesson you should heed, If at first you don’t succeed, Try try again.

Rocket Espresso Steam Tips

A Tea Lover in a Coffee World: Queen Mary Tea Room Review

After having our first snow last week and with the holiday spirit in the air, you can’t help but want to pop in a cozy tea room and warm up with a cup of cheer (aka tea).  With its sophisticated decor, the charming English-style Queen Mary Tea Room, owned by “Queen” Mary Greengo, makes for the perfect locale. I recently stopped by the University District-area store and, in an effort to slowly convert the rest of the crew into tea lovers, brought Kaylie along for the ride.Holiday Harvest Tea

Upon entering the Queen Mary Tea Room, we were seated next to the home of Princess, the tea room’s resident dove, who enjoys watching guests from her perch (I later found out her counterpart, Earl, a five-year-old pied dove, makes his home at the Queen Mary Tea Emporium down the street). I was curious to learn more about these feathered friends, so I asked Queen Mary’s Brand Ambassador, Michael Zaborowski, to tell me about their story. According to Michael, “Mary has always been a great lover of birds. She even has a Macaw and a Lovebird at home! They add to the elegance of the environment here, just as anywhere.” Both doves used to live at the tea room, but when Mary opened the Tea Emporium three years ago Earl was relocated there so he can greet guests with a coo as they enter the store.

Our table was decorated for the season, with miniature Christmas trees, a bowl of sparkling green, red and white sugar and beautiful floral bone china. After pouring over the menu of over 80 different teas from all over the world, Kaylie and I decided to select one of the special holiday teas. With six teas to choose from, we had a hard decision to make. However, in the end we decided upon Holiday Harvest, a flavored black tea described on the menu as being “infused with orange slices, cardamom pods, pink peppercorn, clove, cinnamon, coriander and apple pieces.” According to our server, this tea is a perennial favorite, so while the other holiday teas change every year, the Holiday Harvest is always featured.

The tea came in a pretty silver teapot and our server told us to steep the tea for three to four minutes.  So we flipped over the hourglass timer on our table and waited anxiously for the last grains of sand to trickle through the timer so we could try our tea.  The tea had a mild orange flavor, with a hint of spiciness and smelled like cloves, cinnamon and citrus. Kaylie described it best when she exclaimed, “This smells like Christmas! Like what Santa’s house at the North Pole would smell like.” We also got to sample the Roasted Chestnut tea (also flavored black tea), which had a very sweet smell (like a cinnamon roll) but a smoky, nutty taste.

Though the Holiday Harvest and Roasted Chestnut tea were very different, both of the teas were quite tasty. If you aren’t able to make to it Queen Mary Tea in time to try one of the limited-time Christmas teas, never fear, the shop does feature teas for different holidays as well. According to Michael, “Last February saw the ‘Romeo’s Raspberry Rose’ and March featured ‘Luck of the Irish Vanilla Cream’.”

sugar for teaAlthough I didn’t have the pleasure of meeting Mary in person, I did get the opportunity to chat with her and Michael via email. Launched in 1988, Mary proudly admits that Queen Mary Tea Room is the oldest independently owned tea room in the United States.

Mary came up with the idea to create the tea room during one fateful lunch with friends. While all of Mary’s friends ordered coffee, she ordered tea, which Mary claims arrived “weak, watery and flavorless.” Thus, Mary adds, “The idea for the Queen Mary Tea Room was born. I want[ed] a place where guests fe[lt] warm and welcome to sit and enjoy the traditional tea experience with the best cup of tea they have ever had.”

While this incredible idea may have just been a passing fancy for some, Mary had the necessary skills to turn her dream into a reality. Prior to opening the tea room, Mary spent years as a banquet chef at a five-star hotel (she has a degree in culinary arts) and always had the desire to run her own business. Tea also comes naturally to Mary. A native of Seattle, which might as well be the coffee capitol of America, she has never had a cup of coffee in her life (neither had her mother and grandmother). But Mary’s background wasn’t the only sign the store was meant to be. Mary explains that she and her brother came up with the store name at the same time, on the same day. Mary says coming up with a layout for the store was equally painless, “The design just popped into my head and the vision came together in all of two minutes. I bought all of my kitchen equipment at auction and it all fit with only ¼ inch to spare.”

Whether you believe in things being kismet or not, one thing is for certain – Mary has created a unique and wonderful atmosphere. With tea and food designed to please everyone who enters, you certainly won’t find another tea room like Queen Mary (although Mary says customers keep requesting that she open another tea room elsewhere). Mary isn’t afraid to share her royal status either. If you ask, she or her staff will happily offer up tiaras for kids (and adults too!) to wear during birthday parties or other special occasions, allowing everyone a chance to be “queen” for the day.

How Did You Get That Awesome Coffee Job?

Joseph Robertson - Coffee Lovers MagWho: Joseph Robertson

Where: Online Publisher, Coffee Lovers Magazine

You have an interesting coffee job! How long has Coffee Lovers Magazine been around?

I launched Coffee Lovers Magazine December 9th, 2012. Prior to that I was a coffee marketing consultant. I realized there’s a lot of people out there who are passionate about coffee, but who haven’t had the pleasure of diving deeply into the world of coffee.

Where does one find Coffee Lovers Magazine?

Coffee Lovers Magazine is currently digital, available on iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch via iTunes. The magazine will soon be available on Android as well — Kindle is also on the horizon. One can simply go to

How often does the magazine come out?

Coffee Lovers Magazine is a monthly publication. I also tend to publish extra subscriber-only bonuses in between the primary publications. The digital magazine platform allows for a lot of flexibility and variety in what can be delivered. It’s really more than a traditional ‘magazine.’ We simply use that term because it is easy to relate with the idea of a ‘magazine.’  It is a periodical publication, but with interactive elements giving a much greater ability to connect people with ideas and other people.

How did you get so into coffee?

I remember getting into coffee through Starbucks, and at a certain point thinking to myself, ‘I should really check out these smaller cafes and see what this is all about.’ The only problem was I had no idea where to start. I think that it can be intimidating to approach an independent cafe when you honestly don’t know what you want (and this isn’t your fault). I would find myself going to a new cafe (and I still do this sometimes), approaching the counter and when the barista says, ‘what can I get you?’ my response would usually be ‘Uhhhhhhhh…uhhhhh…errr……’

I think there’s a great desire for something more fulfilling than simply a sugary latte. I also know that the industry of coffee is so complex, with so many people who care so much about this thing that I think people deserve to understand the complexity of the experience that they are having.
Coffee Lovers Magazine
That’s also what it really comes down to — the experience of coffee. I had this realization shortly before creating the magazine: Coffee is not about coffee; it’s about the experience that you (the consumer) get with your coffee. It’s about taking that ‘coffee break’ with your co-workers, or meeting with friends, or stopping by for a morning cup. Coffee is a broad experience shared by people of many cultures around the world — there is great connection to be had in this simple drink. No matter what it may be, whether you prefer a latte loaded with milk and sugar, or if you prefer carefully prepared single origin espresso, I believe that our experience with coffee can only be made better by getting a deeper understanding of where the coffee comes from, and what it means to properly care for and handle this marvelous product.

I can have a drink and think, ‘hey, this roaster really loves what they are doing, they can be proud of this’ and I think that’s awesome. Just recently I visited Sterling Roasters in Portland; I had a cappuccino with their most recent espresso blend, and it tasted exactly like a hot cocoa (with nothing added!). That they can take these green coffee seeds, roast them, and prepare them in a way to basically give me a rich hot cocoa without dumping syrup and sugar into a drink — that is awesome. That is truly enjoying and understanding the full experience of coffee.

What’s your favorite coffee prep at home?

I have been preparing AeroPress for quite some time, but I’m actually drifting back to French press. If I had a proper espresso machine, I imagine I would enjoy espresso and occasionally a cappuccino. I typically just prefer to brew my coffee and enjoy it without adding anything.

What’s your favorite drink order when you visit cafes?

If it’s a new cafe I get either an espresso or cappuccino. I think the way a cafe prepares its espresso is really telling of the quality of that cafe. A place with passionate and engaged baristas who serve an obviously well prepared cup is a great place. There’s a tendency in Seattle to serve dark roasts. I would say Starbucks has created that consumer preference. If the coffee has been roasted too dark and burned, I’m going to taste it. Then I’ll know that I probably won’t enjoy the rest of their coffee menu.

For places that I frequent, it depends on my mood. If I’m planning to sit for long, I will order a brewed cup. At Milstead & Co., for example, I usually order an AeroPress. At Ballard Coffee Works, I like to get a siphon. Or, my decision will be based on which coffee sounds best (maybe the coffee on espresso sounds more appealing than the one on brew).

Are you or have you ever been a professional barista?


In your opinion, what makes a good…Coffee…Cafe…Roaster…Barista?

To all of the above: Passion and love for what you do.

If you could teach people one thing about coffee, what would it be?

Coffee drinks with nothing added (sugar, flavor, etc.) can be the most amazing experiences in the world when prepared right — give yourself the opportunity to have your world changed. Try new things. Enjoy the experience of exploring coffee.

The Reluctant Barista: What’s Up With Portafilters?

Saeco Via Venezia portafilter optionsFrom bean to cup, making espresso at home is poetry in motion. Nothing captures the essence of espresso better than a close up view of a streaming bottomless portafilter — a portafilter designed without spouts so that the bottom of the filter basket is visible. Bottomless, pressurized, non-pressurized … though they do the same job, they each do it a little differently. To get the most out of any espresso machine, let’s get to know the portafilter a little better.

First off, what exactly is a portafilter? Some people call just the handle portion portafilter and some people call the handle and filter basket combination portafilter. Some people also call it a portaholder, and that is a little weird, but we understand what you mean. Once the filter basket is filled with ground coffee, the portafilter can be locked into place inside the brew head of your traditional espresso machine. Locked and loaded! Now you are ready to pull espresso shots … If it were only that easy!

To illustrate the differences between types of portafilters, I chose the Saeco Via Venezia. It is a semi-automatic home espresso machine that comes with a pressurized portafilter. There is also a non-pressurized portafilter and bottomless portafilter upgrade available for it, so it makes a good example of how each portafilter works to create a different espresso experience. All three portafilters use the original included double filter basket. Here’s how they compare:

Saeco Via Venezia pressurized portafilterPressurized – The espresso flow is greatly restricted. When the pressure from the boiler combines with an added restriction, it literally spits the coffee out. The restrictive design can be part of the filter basket, part of the portafilter (the Via Venezia uses an additional gasket) or a spring between these two pieces.

Pressurized portafilters often come standard on entry-level espresso machines because they are easier to use for beginners. The coffee doesn’t have to be perfectly fresh, the size of the grind can have a little bit more variation and tamping is not necessary in most cases.

In exchange for this ease of use, the cleanup is messier because the leftover puck is wetter. It is hard to explain the taste difference but a pressurized shot will taste a little bland and homogenous when compared with a non-pressurized espresso shot. The crema produced is mainly a function of extra pressure and not an indicator of coffee freshness. It adds to the visual appeal but not the taste. However, if you are making milk-based drinks you will probably not notice these small differences.

Saeco Via Venezia non-pressurized portafilter upgradeNon-Pressurized – The 15 bar pressure from an espresso machine forces the water and steam through the filter basket. A good espresso extraction needs freshly ground coffee with a consistent particle size. It is also important to tamp evenly with the right amount of pressure so that water flows through in a uniform manner. If espresso flows out one side more than the other, it will still taste okay, but it might have had the potential to taste better with a more even tamp, or a more accurate dosage, or more consistently ground coffee. This is the point where you can seriously start to geek out about your espresso-making methodology!

Non-Pressurized portafilters are for home baristas ready for the challenge to manage variables manually. If you have an interest in crafting delicious espresso, you need a non-pressurized portafilter. This is especially true if you drink espresso, Americano coffee or a Cafe Macchiato. These are drinks where the character of the espresso is front and center compared to a latte or cappuccino where the espresso takes a backseat to ten ounces of milky goodness.

Bottomless – (Sometimes called a naked portafilter.) Usually, the spouts on the bottom of the portafilter direct the coffee as it streams out. Not so with a bottomless portafilter. As a learning tool for a home barista, the bottomless portafilter is a great way to check your progress. Saeco Via Venezia bottomless portafilterThe term ‘channeling’ refers to water that leaks through the puck unevenly due to poor distribution of grounds. Other reasons these crevasses occur can be due to an inconsistent grind, incorrect dosage or an uneven tamp. Any small error will result in random spurts and a messy espresso extraction with a bottomless portafilter. The barista can then take steps to fix one or more of these variables in the hopes of producing a cleaner (and better tasting!) shot.

Some say a bottomless portafilter will make a hotter shot since the espresso does not come into contact with a metal spout. This temperature difference is pretty negligible. It is easier to brew directly into a demitasse and it is easier to keep clean. But the main reason to use a bottomless portafilter is the visual cues it offers that can lead you to micro adjustments in timing, tamping and measurement.

About Filter Baskets – An E61 filter basket is 58mm across while the Via Venezia filter basket is 53mm across and DeLonghi tends to run about 51mm across. Sizes, shapes and hole patterns vary by manufacturer. There is no consensus on whether bigger is better or which proprietary hole pattern is better. The often frustrating thing for home baristas to keep in mind is that most portafilters and filter baskets are not interchangeable between brands. Even if they share the same size diameter, their profile shape will prevent a universal fit in the portafilter or brew head configuration of a different model espresso machine. When looking for a replacement or upgrade, double check compatibility first!

Along with the functional differences listed above, some portafilters are heavier, some are lighter weight and some may feel more balanced in your hand. The tactile sensation of the portafilter is important too. Will the portafilter be ergonomic for all household users? These are seemingly small details to consider when evaluating an espresso machine purchase but it will be part of your daily routine for years to come, so it’s best to shake hands and get to know your portafilter first!

A Tea Lover in a Coffee World: Floating Leaves Tea Review

Located on NW Market Street in Ballard, Floating Leaves Tea is one of the few teahouses in the greater Seattle area that focuses on selling only true teas. The shop’s owner, Shiuwen, hails from Taiwan, and primarily sells Taiwanese, Chinese and Japanese teas. Most of the teas in the shop are seasonal, single-estate teas that Shiuwen sources herself on her yearly trip to Taiwan. In total, Floating Leaves Tea sells about 40 different kinds of tea, which are comprised of a lot of oolong, puerh, a few green teas and one or two white teas.

Floating Leaves Tea HouseShiuwen says that while selection of 40 different teas may sound small compared to shops that sell nearly a hundred different kinds of teas, she is intentionally selective about the teas she has in her shop. She works hard to find the best teas for her shop, only selling what she feels truly passionate about. It just so happens that she’s passionate about oolongs!

Upon my arrival in the shop, Shiuwen used a pretty blue and white gaiwan to brew me up a Baozhong Competition Style oolong. This lightly oxidized tea was refreshing and had a floral aroma and taste, which Shiuwen accurately described as ‘tasting like spring.’ As we continued to chat, Shiuwen brewed a second oolong called Taiwan Wuyi. It was a roasted oolong, featuring a smoky scent and a heartier, roasted nutty flavor that, Shiuwen explained, made it great for drinking in the cooler fall and winter months.

You don’t have to talk to Shiuwen long to tell that when it comes to oolongs (and tea in general), she really knows her stuff. Curious about how she became so knowledgeable about tea, I asked Shiuwen how she got into the tea business. Shiuwen explained that, growing up in Taiwan, tea is a huge part of the culture and was readily available. Although Shiuwen drank tea often as a teenager, the extent of her tea knowledge at the time was ‘tea is good.’ This is largely because tea is often brewed for you in Taiwan, so you don’t get to watch the brewing process.

In fact, Shiuwen didn’t really learn how to brew tea herself until she moved to America. One morning, she decided to make the tea for her and her former husband’s morning tea ritual. Not happy with the result, Shiuwen became curious about how to correctly brew tea and began visiting tea shops and asking the owners (as well as friends) for advice on brewing tea. Once she became comfortable with the process, she began serving tea regularly at parties. One day, one of her friends asked where they could buy the tea she was serving, and the idea for the business was born.

Floating Leaves Tea HouseShiuwen started the business by hosting tastings at her apartment, and then branched into doing tastings at events like art openings. Shiuwen opened her first shop in 2005, and then moved to her current location in 2008. Inspired by teashops and tasting rooms of Shiuwen’s native Taiwan, Floating Leaves Tea is a quaint little shop, with shelves full of ornate and beautiful tea ware and, of course, tea. Shiuwen adds that she wanted to ‘open a space where East and West meet, that was quiet, had a peaceful feeling and served good tea.’

Shiuwen’s ultimate goal is to be a ‘bridge between the culture in Taiwan and the culture in America.’ Luckily, her frequent visits to Taiwan to source teas for Floating Leaves Tea provide Shiuwen with the perfect opportunity to achieve this goal. While in Taiwan, Shiuwen is able to learn from and build relationships with tea farmers, tea roasters and tea wholesalers who have been in the industry for years. Shiuwen then strives to bring the knowledge and concepts she learns from these tea producers back to America and share them with her customers. Better yet, each year a few lucky customers get to travel with Shiuwen on this incredible journey, which allows them to visit three or four tea farms, and dine with and learn from the farmers themselves.

In addition, Shiuwen offers drop-in tea tastings on Thursdays through Saturdays from 12:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. so people can sample and compare a couple of different teas to determine what they would like to buy. She also has more formal tea classes and even a tea club where people can learn about oolongs and puerh teas at a more advanced level. However, Shiuwen is not only interested in teaching advanced learners, but likes working with beginners as well. She says it is great when people reach out and contact her about setting up classes, and she is more than willing to host them as long as there will be at least two people attending. If you can’t attend class in person, Shiuwen has an abundance of helpful information on her site about how oolongs are processed, or even on how to roast tea yourself.

Shiuwen will also happily serve up a cup of tea to customers who wander in from the cold and chat with them about tea. Since Floating Leaves Tea is a niche shop, it draws in a lot of repeat customers, which Shiuwen loves connecting with. It is evident by the way Shiuwen’s eyes light up when she talks about her customers that this is the aspect of her business that she enjoys the most. In fact, she says that many of them have become good friends, who often come over to her house to visit. If you’re interested in learning a lot about tea and making a new friend (or two), this is definitely the teashop for you.

Barista Snapshot: Bethany at The Fresh Pot

bethany_hargroveWho: Bethany Hargrove, Barista

Where: The Fresh Pot, Portland, Oregon

We met you at the Coffee Fest Latte Art World Championship Open in Seattle last month. What’s it like competing?

Full disclosure: I only started competing this year. My first throwdown was last July. Competing is honestly kind of weird. It’s not really a replication of how latte art works in the cafe environment, but it’s so much fun. I love the chance to jam with other coffee people, talk (really enthusiastically) about great coffees and latte art techniques and espressos. Eighty percent of why I love competing is to hang out with coffee folks. The other twenty percent is, well, who wouldn’t love a giant rock-paper-scissors tournament but with milk and espresso?

What was the first coffee drink you remember tasting?

The only coffee in my house as a kid was swill (sorry dad,) so I didn’t really try coffee when I was young. I remember drinking sugary/milky drinks from Dutch Bros drive-throughs with my sister, but I didn’t really start drinking coffee in earnest until I started working with it in 2010.

What do you drink now at home?

When I’m just brewing for myself, I usually use a Kalita Wave with whichever delectable coffee I happen to have at the time (I’m particularly fond of juicy or citrusy coffees). If I’m sharing with my roommate or friends, the Chemex is my standby. I also have an AeroPress and a French press on hand in case the mood should strike me.

What do you drink at work, if different?

Everything! I love espresso. You can’t get more beautiful than the purity of a well extracted shot. But I also drink cappucinos, Americanos, pour overs, drip, you get the idea. Whatever fits my mood!

What’s cool about the Portland coffee scene?

In brief, the people. Portland has such a huge diversity of people in the coffee scene, from guys who’ve been slinging shots at Stumptown for a decade, to folks who’ve transplanted here from cities without good coffee for the sake of the coffee, to people who’ve been building relationships with coffee farmers, and everyone in between. Most people are really fun to hang out with, and obsessed with quality. I’m honored to be a part of such a brilliant community, honestly.

What are your thoughts on quality versus customer service skills?

As a friendly barista in Portland, a town (apparently) famed for bad customer service, I have encountered two very distinct attitudes: One, people assume that if someone is friendly, they don’t know how to make fantastic coffee; and two, people will avoid somewhere they perceive as snobby, willingly sacrificing quality for friendlier service. I don’t think it’s too much to ask for baristas to be friendly and skilled! Even the most delicious espresso in the world isn’t any fun if the barista isn’t willing to talk to you about it, and even the friendliest cafe experience in the world is no fun unless the espresso is delicious. And really, I consider my customer service skills to be equally as valuable as my coffee skills. Knowing how to read people and give them exactly the level of service they need and expect is hard, and just as much of an art as extracting delicious espresso.

Do you ever judge people by the drink they order?

I try really hard not to, but when someone orders a decaf at 9am…

If you could teach people one thing about coffee (or latte art), what would it be?

It’s worth it to invest some money in your coffee experiences — both beans and gear! But don’t necessarily assume that more expensive always equals better. Talk to your baristas, and your roaster if possible. Find out what’s delicious, and get a good home brewing set up! It’s worth every single penny.

The Fresh Pot in Portland, Oregon has three locations and if you’re lucky you will run into Bethany at one of them. She’s been pulling shots with them for a year and a half. Bethany can also be found competing in organized latte art competitions around the Northwest.

photos by Megan O'Connell
photos by Megan O’Connell


What is Tea Certification?

Tea CertificationYou may have heard recently that tea is rapidly increasing in popularity in America. In order to keep up with the trends, you might have considered adding tea to your cafe or store offerings, doing some research on tea to learn more about it or even taking classes to become a tea master or tea sommelier. However, since getting a tea certification is still a fairly new concept for most people, the phrases ‘tea master’ or ‘tea sommelier’ may leave you scratching your head, wondering what the programs entail or whether they are really worth the cost. To figure out what getting a tea certification is all about, we did our due diligence and took a class ourselves.

Who Should Get Certified as a Tea Master, Sommelier or Specialist?

Some of the folks that would benefit from this certification include:

  • Retailers or business owners that desire industry recognition or want themselves and/or their staff to have a deep knowledge of tea so they can increase their sales.
  • Owners of tea rooms or cafes who want advanced knowledge on how to serve tea and what to pair it with.
  • Wholesalers who are directly involved in buying or selling tea.
  • People in the food service or culinary industry, as well as those in the coffee and wine business (while they are very different beverages, there are similarities in how tea, coffee and wine are evaluated).
  • Tea growers or researchers.
  • Nutritionists, dieticians or other health care professionals who are interested in using tea to lead a healthy lifestyle.

However, getting a tea certification can also be helpful for people who are simply interested in tea or have a passion for it and would like to learn more about tea.

What is the Tea Certification Process?

Generally, the tea certification process begins by building a strong understanding of the Camellia sinensis plant and the six basic types of tea. Students learn how each type of tea is processed and produced, what differentiates each classification of tea and where and how the teas are grown. Tisanes and popular herbals like Rooibos, Yerba Mate and Honeybush are often also taught about during the class. The next step of a tea specialist’s education is usually learning about post-production processes such as naming and grading, decaffeination, blending, scenting and flavoring. The final part of becoming a tea master is discovering how to brew, taste and evaluate teas, as well as being able to create and host their own tea cuppings. Some programs also include lessons on pairing food with tea, the health benefits of tea, how to educate guests about tea or hosting specific types of tea ceremonies, while other organizations have these classes separated into additional, more advanced programs.

If you are interested in enrolling in a tea certification program, you are in luck, as there are several available in America (there are plenty of courses outside the United States as well). Depending on what program you enroll in, classes are offered either in-person, online or some combination thereof. Here are a few popular programs, and the certifications they offer:

Is Tea Certification Worth the Cost?

While there is no absolute guarantee that becoming a certified tea master or sommelier will secure you a job or increase your business, becoming more knowledgeable about the products you are selling or serving certainly can’t hurt. The more you know, the better you will be able to stock your store, pair tea with food in your cafe, educate your customers about tea and explain why it is a good option for them. If nothing else, by attending a class you will have gotten to see, learn about, taste and experiment with some new teas, and perhaps even connect with other people in the industry.

I recently attended James Nordwood Pratt’s Apprentice Tea Sommelier class at Coffee Fest, and while I thought I was decently educated about tea before, I found out there was a lot I didn’t know. I came out of the class with a greater appreciation for tea, and a head full of new fun facts, stories and information to share with my coworkers.

If you aren’t ready to shell out your hard earned cash for a tea class, you can also find a lot of written information about tea either online or in books. There are a number of tea professionals (such as James Norword Pratt, Robert J. Heiss, etc.) who have written informative books that can be found most libraries. In addition, there is a large and active online tea community with folks who are part of organizations like the Association of Tea Bloggers, who review and write about tea regularly. There are also several forums such as Steepster and Tea Trade where people can ask questions and share information with fellow tea lovers. Finally, some tea retailers like Adagio Teas have extensive information on tea that is helpful for beginners and advanced learners alike.